ROCKLAND, Maine — A 36-year-old Appleton man who was facing felony drug charges was fined $750 Wednesday morning after the state and defense agreed to a plea agreement.
Christian “Will” Neils pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana in the deal agreed to by the attorney general’s office and Neils. In exchange for his plea, an aggravated trafficking in marijuana charge was dismissed and the felony possession of marijuana charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.
Neils’ case was one of 44 that were scrutinized by defense attorneys after they learned in 2010 that former Maine Drug Enforcement Agency agent Kirk Guerrette had been investigated as part of a larger statewide probe by the attorney general’s Healthcare Crimes Unit. The director of that department acknowledged earlier this year that the investigation ended in May without anyone being charged.
Defense attorneys, who hoped to undermine the agent’s credibility as a witness in their cases, claimed that the investigation indicated Guerrette abused prescription sleep medication. Guerrette has denied any wrongdoing and noted earlier this year that the conclusion of the state’s probe confirmed he did nothing wrong.
Guerrette, who had been assigned to the MDEA since 2007, left the agency and returned to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office where he was promoted to lieutenant and still works today.
Guerrette was listed as a potential state witness in Neils’ case. A jury was selected Tuesday and the trial was supposed to begin Thursday in Knox County Superior Court, but the two sides reached an agreement after jurors were picked.
“I thought long and hard about accepting the deal,” Neils told the Bangor Daily News after Wednesday’s hearing. “I saw 12 good people on the jury but I have no faith that the system would treat me fairly.”
He contended that law enforcement officers lie and get away with it. He pointed out that in the several decades that the attorney general’s office has investigated shootings of citizens by police officers that the state has found the shootings justified every time.
Defense attorney Leonard Sharon said during Wednesday’s hearing that his client was a medical marijuana caregiver.
Assistant Attorney General Lisa Bogue said during the hearing that the potential defense of Neils being a medical marijuana caregiver played a role in the decision to reach the plea deal.
A little less than three pounds of marijuana was seized when Neils’ property was searched in 2010. An Eastfield 12-gauge shotgun also was seized.
Neils did not contest the forfeiture of the gun to the state. He also will not contest the state’s keeping the marijuana it seized.
Sharon said his client accepted the plea deal because the amount seized may have been slightly more than the allowed amount of marijuana that a caregiver can possess.
Bogue said after the hearing that state voters approved a medical marijuana law in November 2009 and regulations were developed in August 2010. She said one caregiver could have up to 2.5 ounces per patient and that each caregiver could have marijuana for up up to five people. She said the defense may have argued that Neils’ roommate also was a caregiver.
The defense had attempted to have the court void the search warrant based on allegations of Guerrette’s abuse of prescription sleep medication.
Justice Jeffrey Hjelm rejected that motion earlier this year.
Bogue said Wednesday that there are two remaining cases of the original 44 in which Guerrette is a potential witness. One is the case of 24-year-old Isiah Roscoe of Brewer who is charged with trafficking in cocaine. His jury-waived trial is scheduled to start Monday in Knox County Superior Court.
The other case involves Kaihlil T.P. Nigro, 38, of Portland who was sentenced in March 2010 to 10 years behind bars with all but seven years suspended for trying to sell more than 50 grams of cocaine in Rockland in 2009.
Hjelm said at Nigro’s March 2010 sentencing that the defendant was a danger to the community, citing previous drug convictions.
Bogue said Nigro is appealing the conviction.